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Why Zak Hardaker nearly turned down NRL offer from Penrith Panthers

Man of steel: Zak Hardaker. Photo: SuppliedZak Hardaker was so desperate to help bumbling English Super League champions Leeds avoid relegation he initially turned down a chance to join the Penrith Panthers and said he has no qualms returning to the north of England next year if required.
Nanjing Night Net

The reigning Man of Steel, the honour in recognition of the English Super League’s best player, is desperately trying to establish himself in the NRL after being the centrepiece of a player swap with former Panthers hooker James Segeyaro.

Hardaker remains under contract with Leeds until the end of 2019 and is yet to field any concrete offers to extend his Australian stay beyond a short-term stint with finals-chasing Penrith.

And the 24-year-old revealed how close he came to rebuffing Penrith’s interest in order to help struggling Leeds, who have been condemned to fighting for their Super League survival after failing to qualify for the Super 8s.

That was despite previously having asked for a release to try his hand in the NRL.

“I said ‘no’ at first [when the Penrith offer came up] purely because of where Leeds were sitting on the table,” Hardaker said. “It’s been tough this year for the boys and I wanted to help them to get out from the bottom four. That was my first answer.

“[But] they knew I had a desire to come out here [to the NRL] and give it a go. They knew I was tied down with Leeds and it was not as if I could go anywhere. It’s just about the experience and they assured me the fullback position was covered back home and I wasn’t leaving them short handed.

“My contract is for another three years and if it didn’t happen [there was enough interest to stay in the NRL] and I need to stay at Leeds I’m more than happy to do that. When my contract is up I’ll be a 27-year-old and things can change. You never say never.”

Hardaker is slowly becoming a key piece of Panthers coach Anthony Griffin’s quest for his young side to inch into the finals picture with a crucial test against the Sydney Roosters at Pepper Stadium on Monday night.

The tattooed English international is desperate for more game time to strengthen his Four Nations claims under the watchful eye of Broncos coach Wayne Bennett, who will be in charge of the side for next year’s World Cup.

Hardaker was booted out of the English squad during the 2013 World Cup for drinking and was last year sent to an anger management course after police probed an assault of a student in Leeds.

And having acknowledged he knew how much more rugby league is in the spotlight in Sydney, the one-time English bad boy said it’s “good to be in the limelight I guess”. But no glare has been as intense as the one afforded by his nurse mother who rebelled against Hardaker’s first tattoo when he was just 16.

“It was four stars on my wrist,” Hardaker said. “My mum wasn’t really happy.

“I kept turning up with the odd one and it kept building up. She kept saying, ‘that’s your last one, that’s your last one’. Then it was, ‘just one arm done’ and then I turned up with a bit on my other arm and now that’s finished and I’ve got three-quarters of my leg done and my back.

“It seems to get a bit more each time and she’s just come to the conclusion I like tattoos and I’ll be getting them.”

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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